Now, what’s been called the opioid-withdrawal plant is under renewed scrutiny by the federal government as its advocates plan an informational rally at the state’s Capitol Campus.
Kratom is made from leaves of a tree native to Southeast Asia and typically ingested for pain relief or as a stimulant. It recently has been in the spotlight for various issues:
▪ The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has blamed it for a multi-state salmonella outbreak that started in October. Oregon and California are among the states affected. Washington, so far, isn’t on the CDC list.
▪ The Food and Drug Administration in November cited concerns over kratom marketing and the plant’s effects on people taking it and this month warned of the potential for abuse, stating the plant has the presence of opioid compounds, according to its research.
▪ The FDA took further action this month, saying it had recalled and destroyed kratom-containing dietary supplements made by a Missouri manufacturer.
“Scientific data we’ve evaluated about kratom provides conclusive evidence that compounds contained in kratom are opioids and are expected to have similar addictive effects as well as risks of abuse, overdose and, in some cases, death,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in an FDA release Feb. 21 about the recall. “At the same time, there’s no evidence to indicate that kratom is safe or effective for any medical use.”
Not so fast, say its supporters.
The American Kratom Association has launched an online campaign, #IamKratom, to rally support.
The group, calling the FDA’s warnings a “disinformation campaign,” also has sent a letter to the White House from scientists in support of kratom.
The letter stated that “four surveys indicate that kratom is presently serving as a lifeline away from strong, often dangerous opioids for many of the several million Americans who use kratom.”
“It is our collective judgment that placing kratom into Schedule I will potentially increase the number of deaths of Americans caused by opioids,” the letter states.
The current botanical battles are reminiscent of 2016 when kratom was set to join the DEA’s Schedule 1 list of drugs. That list contains drugs deemed by the DEA to have no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
Already on that Schedule 1 list: heroin, LSD, cannabis, ecstasy, methaqualone and peyote.
While Washingtonians might be familiar with the fight over cannabis being on that list, kratom has its own vocal army of support here and nationally.
Public outcry in 2016 from those supporters led to more time for public comment on the drug-scheduling issue. It also led to a run on local stores selling kratom.
Purchasers at that time recounted to The News Tribune what they felt kratom’s benefits had been for them, from anxiety treatment to weaning off opioid medication.
There were calls by Congress to overrule the DEA emergency drug scheduling, and, in October 2016, the DEA withdrew its notice of intent.
For now, kratom is banned for sale and possession in at least five states and in several cities and is listed as a controlled substance in 16 countries.
But with renewed calls to action from the FDA and with the DEA reviewing that information and conducting its own analysis, battle lines are forming again between federal officials and kratom advocates.
Feb. 22, The American Kratom Association released a new statement in response to the FDA and CDC’s action alerts.
“AKA supports appropriate product regulation to ensure safety and purity standards for kratom-based supplements — not barring access to the millions of Americans who utilize this plant’s many benefits without issue.”
Locally, Leah Staub, 27, who lives in Tacoma, is doing her part for the kratom movement as a grassroots advocate.
She is calling for more research on kratom’s overall potential and has turned to kratom in the past to help with panic attacks.
“It is not proper to say that kratom treated or cured my anxiety, but it assisted me in finding balance,” she told The News Tribune. “Our main message is that kratom should not be dismissed so easily without further research. We believe that there is enough evidence to suggest that further inquiry is the next step.”
“We know that if kratom is banned, further study will become very difficult and a more dangerous black market will emerge,” she said.
She said that for now, buyers have to rely on trusted, vetted vendors and noted the problems people face with an unregulated market.
“If businesses choose to make medical claims in their marketing approach, this will only serve as fodder for the FDA and their criticisms. If vendors are not testing their product for contaminants, it will also hurt the chances of kratom remaining accessible,” Staub said.
Given the recent CDC salmonella report, she noted that “often times it takes a report like that to really get the ball rolling.”
“It is part of our responsibility, as consumers, to ask whether the kratom we are purchasing is being tested for contaminants,” she said. “We want a safe product.”
When: March 6, noon to 5 p.m.
Where: North steps of the Legislative Building in Olympia
More information: http://bit.ly/2ohQUS7 (Washington State Kratom Rally events page on Facebook)